Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

The exhausting truth about booking a small-scale storytelling tour.

It’s been a long while since I wrote a blog post – to be honest, I’ve not written many for the past 9 months, a combination of tiredness, lack of inspiration and, well, doing other stuff.

I’m in the midst of booking a tour at the moment for the show I made last year, Every Little Hope You Ever Dreamed (But Didn’t Want To Mention), and it’s, well, exhausting, disheartening, occasionally ecstasy-filled and repetitive.

First up I should say that the show is touring in March and April next year, and if you live in North or West Yorkshire, Lancashire or Wales then I’ve pretty much got you covered. But not Scarborough (but I’m totes over that). Secondly I should say that this is a process that is pretty new to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve programmed work, I’ve searched for shows and chased people down, but in the past I’ve asked other people to do the tour booking.

So what’s it involve?

Well lots and lots of research to start with. I’ve a database that I’ve made from scratch that has extensive information on around 150 venues, programmers and auditoria around the UK which have an appropriate theatre space for my show. From that starting point I sent out circa 170 e-mails to listed contacts with a tour pack to, hopefully, enthuse people about my show (you can see it here).

I was lucky, 3 venues got back to me straight away and said yes. But then you enter a cycle of repetition – following up every two weeks, until you get a reply – yes, no or, more likely, out of office. This is probably a slightly harder sell – it has no press yet, noone famous in and is storytelling, it’s pretty much the hardest sell you’ll have in your season (but the most rewarding right?!).

It’s really tricky not to take the rejections personally but you have to detach yourself from it – the show isn’t right for everyone’s programme – I’ll be truthful and say when people are up front and honest and give even a tiny bit of context then it’s fine. That said a few just sting. The theatre who sent a very short and slightly curt e-mail saying no without even the possibility of a nice chat (totes over it), or the one who, because I live 4 miles too far away from their catchment, cannot consider the show (and over this one too).

It’s also been tricky to price the show – I inherently don’t value myself as much as other people, and I’d rather it be seen lots than me make money on it. As it turns out the making money thing will be tricky, it’ll break even, but is incredibly low cost – it’s literally just me travelling in a car – and I wonder if I’m pitching it so low so people think it’ll be shit – I’m doing it alongside my full time job so I’m in a privileged position, my view is that the money venues save on my show might be able to help subsidise a show for people who aren’t in the position I am (which is the same reason I’m not applying for ACE or ACW funding).

That’s not to say I want to lose money, I don’t, I’ve had to pull away from a couple of dates which combined could have led to losses of £500+. I just want to be able to do it, pay for my petrol and accommodation and maybe have a beer afterwards. Also I want to have an adventure – I’m doing this in many ways as my holiday from my day job.

I think I’ve probably sent nearly 400 e-mails over the last 3 months. Phone calls are impossible now, working from home rendering every direct line inaccessible. It’s also worth saying that when a venue says yes it’s the most amazing feeling – your heart sings and it’s genuinely the most uplifting and rewarding thing. But with redundancies around the UK it’s tricky – also worth saying that cold calling someone is really hard – it’s no coincidence the places I’m going I’ve generally got an in with in some way, shape or form.

I genuinely don’t know who reads this blog nowadays – since reducing my Arts Marketing output my readership seems to be more European with fewer visitors from Australia and New Zealand, and is, I suspect, more the domain of friends and family. But if you know of a cool venue that I’ve maybe not thought of then maybe leave a comment below? I’d love to do a festival, or random pub gig, or wherever really?

I’ll announce the full dates at the end of this month which’ll be dead exciting but for now if you’re near Wigan or Halifax then they’re on sale now!